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Thanks to the Hand

November 25, 2015

Jeff G sends a link to this column by Jeff Jacoby that appeared in The Boston Globe in 2003. RTWT. My emphasis (and Jeff G’s) below.

As I like to put it (or tl;dr) "Don’t bite the Invisible Hand that feeds you."

Giving thanks for the ‘invisible hand’

GRATITUDE TO THE ALMIGHTY is the theme of Thanksgiving, and has been ever since the Pilgrims of Plymouth brought in their first good harvest. “Instead of famine, now God gave them plenty,” their leader, Governor William Bradford, later wrote, “and the face of things was changed to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.”

The annual presidential Thanksgiving proclamations always invoke God, and they frequently itemize the blessings for which we owe Him thanks. […]

Today, in millions of homes across the nation, God will be thanked for many gifts — for the feast on the table and the company of loved ones, for health and good fortune in the year gone by, for peace at home in a time of war, for the incalculable privilege of having been born — or having become — American.

But it probably won’t occur to too many of us to give thanks for the fact that the local supermarket had plenty of turkey for sale this week. Even the devout aren’t likely to thank God for airline schedules that made it possible for some of those loved ones to fly home for Thanksgiving. Or for the arrival of Master and Commander at the local movie theater in time for the holiday weekend. Or for that great cranberry-apple pie recipe in the food section of the newspaper. […]

And yet, isn’t there something wondrous — something almost inexplicable — in the way your Thanksgiving weekend is made possible by the skill and labor of vast numbers of total strangers? […]

No turkey czar sat in a command post somewhere, consulting a master plan and issuing orders. […]

Adam Smith called it “the invisible hand” — the mysterious power that leads innumerable people, each working for his own gain, to promote ends that benefit many. Out of the seeming chaos of millions of uncoordinated private transactions emerges the spontaneous order of the market. […] No dictator, no bureaucracy, no supercomputer plans it in advance. Indeed, the more an economy is planned, the more it is plagued by shortages, dislocation, and failure. […]

Mr. Jacoby’s opinion is backed by the reactions of Russian visitors to the US during the Cold War. The snippet below comes from Back in the USSR (in the Winter 2004 edition of Boston College Magazine). My emphasis again.

For Russians, most of whom have a heritage in agriculture, such a visit exposed the shortcomings of Soviet agriculture and by extension the Soviet system. “Why do we live as we do?” was a question many of them ended up asking, according to a veteran State Department interpreter who has escorted many Russians around the country:

Their minds were blown by being here. They could not believe there could be such abundance and comfort. Many of them would even disparage things here. “Excess, who needs it,” they would say. However, you could see that they did not believe what they were saying. When they returned home, in their own minds and in the privacy of their own trusted little circle of family and friends, they would tell the truth to themselves or to others.

ACCOUNTS OF Soviets’ astonishment on visiting their first American supermarket are legion, from the first Russian students who came to the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to the future Russian president Boris Yeltsin in 1989.


Thank goodness for free markets.

WonTheLottery

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